Cubs

Cubs dig up more late-inning magic, but can't close out White Sox

Cubs dig up more late-inning magic, but can't close out White Sox

For the second day in a row, Anthony Rizzo put the Cubs on his back.

Only this time, the result wasn't a win for his team.

The National League MVP frontrunner tied the game in the ninth inning, lifting a two-strike single into left field to score Dexter Fowler.

But Cubs reliever Mike Montgomery couldn't hold on, letting the winning run strut in on a walk-off single from Tyler Saladino in a 5-4 White Sox victory in front of 39,510 fans at U.S. Cellular Field Monday night.

Montgomery — acquired last week from the Seattle Mariners — has now given up two runs and recorded just two outs in a Cubs uniform.

He admitted he needs to be smarter in that situation in the ninth inning and also assured Chicago reporters his confidence isn't faltering despite a bad start with a new club.

"No, I felt really good today," Montgomery said. "I think it's really just a couple of pitches that I was trying to go up in the zone and just being a little bit smarter about. You gotta have a short memory in here.

"It's obviously frustrating. It's the last thing I want to do — come here and not do well right away. I'm not gonna lose any confidence, though. I'm gonna go out there and trust my stuff and just kinda learn from it and move on and be ready for tomorrow."

The Cubs trailed all game as the White Sox touched up Jake Arrieta for a run in the third and then Todd Frazier drilled a three-run shot into center field with two outs in the sixth.

"It's obvious I just need to execute better there," Arrieta said. "I threw him a first-pitch cutter and he threw the bat in the stands, I think. Just needed to be more expanded with that pitch; it was middle-middle.

"He's in a situation where he's expecting balls in the strike zone. You gotta tip your cap. He put a good swing on it. Just really came down to that pitch and not being able to execute the way I needed to."

[RELATED: Cubs make business decision to look past Chapman's domestic violence suspension]

After Frazier's homer, Javy Baez immediately responded and cut the Sox lead in half with a two-run shot in the top of the seventh following Miguel Montero's double.

Baez later started the rally in the ninth with a double down the right field line before promptly stealing third and then scoring on Dexter Fowler's single off Jose Abreu's glove.

Fowler advanced to third on Kris Bryant's single, but Bryant was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double, setting the stage for Rizzo's temporary heroics.

In the bottom of the ninth, Montgomery allowed a leadoff single to J.B. Shuck, who moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Saladino then came through with a single up the middle, which Matt Szczur bobbled, ensuring there was no play at the plate.

Arrieta finished with four runs allowed on five hits and a pair of walks in six innings, following up his strong outing against the New York Mets last week with another up-and-down start.

But Cubs manager Joe Maddon really saw just one bad pitch from Arrieta.

"He pitched really well," Maddon said. "Six innings and gave up very few hits. Very light contact. And he gave up one home run.

"At the end of the day, man, we lost the game, but you cannot start denigrating people for one pitch or the fact that somebody didn't get a hit at the end. We played really well and they just beat us today on a home run and they made some defensive plays. 

"I really think it's important always to truly evaluate what you saw and not just because you lose, denigrate people because of that. We actually played really well today and [Arrieta] pitched well."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.